How to negotiate through life – 10 lessons from a former FBI agent

A few months ago my husband discovered audio books and he was beyond thrilled. He was reluctant at first, because you know, we all love the smell and feeling of real books, but this was a great way to “read” while doing something else, like driving.

He is a cybersecurity specialist, but for a long time, his specialization was combined with sales, so negotiations were always a big part of his life.

He told me about this book from a former FBI agent that totally blew his mind. Simple concepts, accessible for people who are not necessarily psychology passionates.

A few days later , I was coaching someone from another country and he told me about this amazing book from a former FBI agent.

Was this the same book my husband was talking about? Yes, it was.

I wanted a real experience, so I bought the book and put it on the shelf.

A few weeks ago, the time has come. I was already seeing ads from Masterclass with this guy, so I thought “ok, time to roll”.

The first thing that I want to mention is that I was stunned by the fact that negotiating has SO MANY THINGS in common with coaching. Why is that? Because it’s about understanding the human mind and it’s about walking into a conversation with a beginner’s mind and curiosity.

But first things first.

Who is the guy that wrote “Never Split The Difference?”

His name is Chris Voss, and he is a former FBI hostage negotiator. So basically he is a guy that could not afford to lose negotiations because that meant that lives would be lost.

“Listening is not a passive activity. In fact, it’s the most active thing you can do”.

In the first pages of the book, this sentence comes around. What does this mean?

It means that we mostly do not know how to listen. We mostly hear the things that the other person shares with us, because usually we listen to reply, we don’t listen in order to really understand where the other person comes from.
At my coaching school, we have a concept called Triplex Listening. This means that as a coach, you have to be truly present with your coachee, listening for pattern language (the things they say), listen for the things that they DON’T say, and listening beyond words (feeling the energy of the conversations and paying attention to the paraverbal communication). It doesn’t seem so passive now, right?

I know.

Why is negotiating such a big deal?

Because relationships are a constant negotiation of needs: we negotiate with our partners, we (try to) negotiate with our kids, we negotiate with our friends, with our colleagues and so on.

On a daily basis, an average person is involved in at least 4-6 negotiations. So after reading this book, you will have deep dived into the human mind and you will have a better understanding on how to get what you want, without treating the other person in the negotiation as an enemy, but with respect.

Voss comes with practical examples from his experience with terrorists and kidnappers, so it makes you think. If these strategies worked with these kind of people, why wouldn’t they work in our day to day life?

It’s a very easy-to-read book, but filled with precious information.

It has 10 chapters, and I think anyone who is a bit curious about the human mind will find it fascinating.

Here is a short summary of what you will take from every chapter.

In Chapter 1, you will learn how to become the smartest person in any room. How? By getting emotional instead of rational. We are emotional animals, even if we don’t like to admit it. We usually stick with “smart and fair” negotiating styles, when in fact negotiations are all about gathering information from your counterpart. How do you do that?

Not by being “smart”, but by “getting” the other person.

In Chapter 2, you will learn how to build rapport. Mirroring, putting someone into a positive framework, slowing down and NOT COMMITING TO ASSUMPTIONS. We often remain stuck in our perceptions and past experience and we stick with our assumptions. But the trick in negotiations is to always come with a beginner’s mind.

Forget what you know or think about people, be ready to receive fresh and new information about your counterpart.

In chapter 3,  you will understand how to build empathy and make your counterpart feel understood. “The beauty of empathy is that you don’t have to agree with the other person’s  ideas. But by acknowledging the other person’s situation,  you immediately convey that you are listening. And once they know that you are listening, they might tell you something you can use”. Powerful, right?

In chapter 4, you will learn why in a negotiation you never want to hear an “yes”, but that “NO” is one of the best answers you can receive.

In chapter 5, find out what are the 2 words that you need to master in order to get your counterpart to feel understood.

And now the real fun begins.

In chapter 6, you will learn how to bend people’s reality. It’s a very powerful and effective tool, but somehow simple.

Calibrated questions are very important if you want to stall or gather useful information. Also, there is always a team on the other side. If you are not influencing those behind the table, you are vulnerable. Learn about all of these in chapter 7.

The real negotiation begins in chapter 8. Learn how to use the 7-38-55 percent rule and how to make sure that your counterpart sticks to what you agreed upon.

Chapter 9. Real business. When things get though (and they will eventually), you must know how to identify your counterpart’s negotiating style, how to take a punch, and how to prepare an Ackerman plan.

And finally, in chapter 10 you will learn how to find Black Swans. Those powerful and game changing unkown unkowns. When you understand how your counterpart sees the world, you can find Black Swans. When someone seems irrational or  crazy , they most probably aren’t. See what lies there.

I read “Never split the difference” for recreation, but I plan to read it again with a pencil in my hand, to take notes, and write all the important stuff down. I also got an Masterclass membership, so I can take Voss’s class.

As a coach, my mission is to relate and to understand people. My mission is to make people feel safe and to hold that space for them. No doubt, this book gave me very precious pieces of information, that I applied immediately and I saw massive improvements.

As a mother, I read a great number of books, I participated in tens of workshops about parenting and child psychology, and how to relate and understand my child better. And I can say that everything that I read in Voss’s book, applies to parenting also.

I think that anyone in any situation, job, or domain could benefit from what lies between the pages of this book. You want to get better at negotiating for your business? Great, than you can read it.

You want to get better at understanding how the human mind works? Great, than you can read it.

You want to be a better partner or parent? Great, than you can read it.

Basically, anyone who wants to get better with human interaction should read it.


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